I feel like there are a lot of “what-ifs” in this novel. I know if can be frustrating to speculate about what could/should have happened in novels, but I also think it helps form a better understanding of the characters to wonder how they would react in slightly different circumstances. This novel also leaves a lot of room for speculation since the author leaves so many characters and relationships underdeveloped.
What if Montie had seen Miriam with Bob before they both set out to war, or if Roscoe had told Montie about what he’d seen? We talked a lot in class about Bob’s hypocrisy regarding his relationship with Miriam and his judgement of Montie’s relationship with Blanche, but do you think he would have acted any differently if he were aware that Montie knew of his relationship with Miriam? Would Montie have thrown that relationship back in Bob’s face in that moment? Would that have made the situation worse, or would Bob have been forced to back down a little? Probably the former. Bob may have faltered a bit out of surprise, especially if he actually weren’t aware how Montie’s knowledge of his relationship with Miriam, but ultimately I think Bob would have made matters worse for Montie if he had tried to fight back against Bob.
The biggest “what if” is the ending: what if Montie hadn’t bothered trying to save Bob? We talked in class about why Montie needing to be “the hero.” The author felt the need to give Montie that role within the narrative because, as a black man, he could not have been the character who sees the white officer wounded in the trench and leaves him there to die. Even though Montie would have been completely justified in leaving Bob, the audience at the time that this novel was written would not have accepted those actions from Montie. So he has to be the hero. What struck me, however, is that Bob says “But I want to thank you” (68) before Montie has even made the decision to get Bob out of the trench. All Montie has done at that point is put a tourniquet on his leg, prop him up, and give him some water. So what if that’s all Montie had to do? He can still be seen as a hero of sorts by crawling into the trench and assisting the man who stripped him of his rank. Saving his life was hopeless, but at least he made him a bit more comfortable in his last moments. Meanwhile Montie waits out the gunfire until it’s safe to leave the trench, and survives.